Hunan Cottage is (thankfully) gone, and the Chengdu 23 people moved into the building on Rt 46 East, in Fairfield, NJ. But not with Sichuan-style food. This time, they've implemented a Shanghai-style restaurant (with a very silly-sounding name). Which is just wonderful news. It's called FU restaurant Shanghai 46 (name changed!.
Even better news is that the meal we recently has was immensely enjoyable, and no doubt an indicator of the good things to come.
The menu is set up similarly to Chengdu 23's. In fact, if you don't look closely, you'd think they were the same. But this menu is filled with Shanghainese food. The standard Americanized stuff is in separate sections of the menu, and it's relatively clear which food is authentic cooking.
That authentic Shanghai-style cooking doesn't rely as heavily on the fermented, deep, rich flavors and oil-based sauces that Sichuan food often does. Shanghainese is more about the flavors of preserved vegetables and silky, almost understated sauces. Other than some of the protiens (sea cucumber, eel, jellyfish), it's hard to think that this food could be offensive or intimidating to anyone, even if they aren't familiar with authentic Chinese cooking. It's quite agreeable, and very approachable. So, you know, try it if you haven't. Or if you have, bring your dopey friends who claim "I don't like Chinese food," even though they've never actually had Chinese food.
So I was saying...
The staff was pleasant and accommodating. I can't help but give Hunan Cottage one final kick in the groin for being such unpleasant people when I note this.
We started off with a couple of selections from the dim sum menu, and then jumped into the entrees.
First up was a leek pancake (Fried Leek Dumpling on the menu) type of deal. We weren't expecting the flat thing that came to the table, but the fried pastry-like dough was filled with glorious leeks. As with much Shanghai food, the flavors were subtle and clean. This isn't the punch-you-in-the-throat flavor profile of Sichuan food. A little hot mustard did provide a welcome kick, though. I guess we weren't truly ready for such subtlety.
The seafood and chive dumplings were surprisingly, umm, pretty. I wasn't expecting this type of presentation. Was that a bit of egg in one of the pockets? I don't know. But again, very bright, clean, vegetal flavors here. Underneath, these little purses were loaded with chives. Fun, fun, fun.
We haven't had Lion's Head Meatballs since frequenting the late, great, China 46 some years back. I am somewhat surprised to realize that we really haven't had much Shanghainese food at all since they closed. Chengdu 1 and Chengdu 23 both opened around the time China 46 closed, and suddenly we found ourselves exploring Sichuan food. On a weekly basis. Knuckle deep in oil and fiery chile. And biting into these meatballs made my wonder why we haven't been spending at least some time at Shanghainese restaurants. The big, tender meatballs with the slightly sweet sauce immediately transported us back. I felt as though I was sitting in China 46 all over again, just a little older, and a lot fatter.
I should note that they are not made with lions. Just pork.
A dish of calamari with pickled cabbage and bamboo shoots was up next. The calamari wasn't as tender I we would have liked. The slightly acidic vegetable and silky broth and contrasting textures, however, were just awesome. Classic Shanghainese flavors here.
And of course we had to get a plate of snow pea leaf, which is perhaps the greatest vegetable ever created. It's such a perfect plate of vegetables.
Shanghai 46 is a great addition to the area. While we have Chengdu 23 and Chengdu 1 nearby, each excellent, there hasn't been a place for Shanghainese food (convenient to me, at least). Others seem to agree, as the place was packed. And we looked to be the only non-Chinese customers.
I'm looking forward to digging deeper into this menu and once again learning a bit about this style of cooking--as long as I can continue to find the place (we had a few wrong turns and u-turns and "where the fu** is this place?!?!" trying to find it today). Here's a hint: it's on Rt 46 eastbound, just east of where Bloomfield Ave and 46 meet.
Shanghai 46 : 14-18 Route 46 East : Fairfield, NJ : 973.808.5888 : BYOB
Also, FU, Hunan Cottage. [I feel better now]